29 July, 2016

2015 Green Shroom (w2t)

Nothing helps a situation like a serious cup of tea.

Looming deadlines? Cup of tea.

Student trying to convince you to let them submit an unready doctoral thesis, while their primary supervisor has disappeared to South America? Cup of tea.

Electricity and water not working while the builders try their hardest to destroy what little remains of your sanity? Cup of tea.

No, you're right: functioning electricity was an aspiration, not a requirement.

Much of this last year, I've enjoyed tea in one of two places: (i) feet up back at Chez Moi, huddled over my teatable, while children bounce off the walls; (ii) sitting in my lab, huddled over my computer keyboard, while researchers bounce off the walls.  Both of these seem to work well to a surprising degree.

I've noticed that I've developed an unexpected ability to enjoy tea at the unlikeliest of times - by setting up my secondary teatable in my office, it's genuinely surprising how much enjoyment I can get out of even the most mediocre tea when it's brewed right.  And by "right", I mean "strong".

Mediocre tea is no short supply: much of the intake has been "gift tea", provided by generous colleagues as they come back from China and India.  Gift tea looks nice, and is characterised by being, let's say, "accessible".  It needs to be inoffensive, by definition.  Good tea is rarely inoffensive, however.

Wimpy wulong?  Just double the amount and perform a "flash brew".  Humdrum hongcha?  Crank up the amount of leaf in the pot, and enjoy the tippy first infusions.  Dodgy Darjeeling?  There's little that maximum amounts can't overcome.

"If in doubt, just overwhelm them with violence."  It's a family motto that I like to like by.

Rarely, I get to drink outside, but that's another great way to improve even the laziest leaf (pictured above, in that "sweet spot" between the students leaving at the end of the academic year, and before the tourists arrive in their bazillions).

Thankfully, w2t has made a tea that (i) I love so much that it seems too big to fail, no matter how it's brewed; and (ii) is unavailable, naturally.  Perhaps the latter is part of its appeal - the one that got away.

When you're making tea that looks like something from Super Mario, then "you had me at hello".  If this were available, my entire life would be filled with such cuties.  Perhaps it is good, then, that (as ever) I got to the party too late, and this had sold out before I got around to drinking the sample from "MISS LIN" (chortle).

As the kettle fires up, I find myself humming the theme-tune to Super Mario Bros.  At one point, I'm sure that I even said, "OBEY WARIO - DESTROY MARIO" to my youngest son.

Dubs (i.e., w2t) has morphed from being super-cheap-and-cheerful into a more premium outfit, and that's entirely fair.  Miss Lin (chortle) makes great tea, and if she wants to charge a living wage on top of it, then I'm not going to whine.

I realise that this makes me a massive hypocrite: the Hobbes from nearly ten years ago, back when the ol' Half Dipper started off, would have been vociferous in condemning a vendor for charging for their tea.  Now, I'm more laissez-faire.  If the tea's right (and w2t's tea is right), then I'm fine with Miss Lin making her margin.

As a thought experiment, I asked myself if I would be equally content with another vendor doubling their prices.  I concluded that I would not be content.  Why, then, am I content for w2t to charge thus?  Perhaps it's personality: personality goes a long way.  The cakes are great, and they have personality.  Additionally, and I think this is the crux for me, there is always a bargain available for sale.  You can grab a huge stack of Elephant Cakes, or Rocket Yiwu, or whatever it might be, for a good and fair price.  That helps a great deal, and discriminates between "ripping off customers wholesale" and "offering something for everyone".

This is, by far, the best tea that I've had for some time.  It is Menghai to the max, but it has a hint of complex darkness.  It  has the heavy scent that matches its dark leaves.  It is green, and especially violent, because I used the whole sample.

This is my kind of town: strong, dark, and unexpectedly fragrant.  The fragrance won't last as it ages, I suspect, but it is a consequence of the complexity of the leaves.  If I wrote "it tastes like a bizarrely-delicious broccoli" you'd be forgiven for thinking it was dreadful, but, really, it is a complex mixture of fruits and vegetal tones that thrills me.

On checking my notes, I was amused to see that this was the last tea that I drank before the builders pulled one side of our house off, in a process that has only just completed, some 11 months later.  The memory of this tea stays with me, and I sorely wish that I'd bought at least one tuocha while it was still available.

Drink 'em while you've got 'em!

04 July, 2016

Strange Days

Warriors, poets, and warrior-poets: I bid you welcome.  I trust that all is well, with you and yours.  These are strange days indeed, but first, let's fire up the trusty ol' tetsubin before we get down to business.

I'm up before the dawn chorus, this morning, which gives me the opportunity and the means: we have a 2010 Mansai cake from Essence of Tea (nee Nadacha) on the table.  The sweet thrills of this cake rather take me by surprise; I wasn't expecting to be thrilled, at 4 a.m., and yet thrilled I appear to be.  Apricots, dried fruits, humidity, sweetness - I am enthused.

It is my ambition, in the coming months, to write up some of the (copious) notes that have accumulated, as accretion is wont to do, in my journals.  I beg your patience, with respect to their arrival, and your tolerance, with respect to their quality; there is a certain rustiness in my ability to write, but rust can be worn away with sufficient elbow-grease.  Let us grease together.

To say that these days are "strange" is not quite to do justice to the batsh*t craziness that seems to typify life at the moment.

We have come a long way together, you and I, on our respective warrior-poet journeys, have we not?  When the Half-Dipper was started, I was a humble graduate student; I was subsequently a humble post-doc; then, father to two mighty warriors (one of whom has just finished his first year at school!).  I remain humble.  As of ten days ago, I am "tenured", which is to say "sufficiently knackered so as to be put out to pasture".  My colleagues refer to me as "professor", which is both extremely unnerving and simultaneously alienating.  Even my old boss uses the title, although, it must be said, not without irony.

A few days later, my countrymen voted themselves out of the European Union.  Much ink has already been committed to this subject, and I will not bore you with my own opinion, suffice to say that literally every single person in my life (personal, professional, adversorial) is of the same mind on this subject, which appears to be on the other side of the argument from the majority of people in the country.

Imagine the Republican Party and the Democratic Party suddenly having no leaders, nor firm idea of what should happen next, and you have some insight into the substance of these recent times.

Balliol lunch
after the referendum -
sauerkraut noodles

Friends, let us shoulder our lances and our quills. It is time to drink some tea - surely, this is the only cogent response to these Strange Days.